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Ode to infinite urban sprawl

Reared on the exhaust-coated streets of Los Angeles, Controlling the Famous’ newest musical experiment is a gritty exploration of aging youth in the concrete confines of 4,084 miles of urban sprawl.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Reared on the exhaust-coated streets of Los Angeles, Controlling the Famous’ newest musical experiment is a gritty exploration of aging youth in the concrete confines of 4,084 miles of urban sprawl.

Distinctly purposed, on “Automatic City” Controlling the Famous presents its jilted perception of consumer culture from the viewpoint of four disenchanted dreamers. In conceptual fashion, the disc flows beautifully from track to track as singer Max Hellmann raps on life in the land of glitz and glamour. On “Detox” Hellmann preaches, “You sold your soul for some regret / There’s nothing here that hasn’t happened / You sold your soul in self defense / Although you seem to be making so much sense.”

Forlorn by the trappings of the scene, Controlling the Famous try hard to set themselves apart from their indie brethren, trading in pop hooks and production tricks for a darker, less obtrusive version of the genre. Drummer Mike Schneider, bassist Brendan Hughes and guitarist Johnny Collins make their presence known on the disc’s second track, “Heart Attack.” Hellmann spits out rhymes — “I need a minute to sleep through my heart attack / When I wake it’ll be right back” — as the three instrumentalists battle it out for control of the song’s raucous finale.

The disc’s meaty middle section ignites with the emblematic “Easy Life.” The track swells with the click-clack of toms, a smattering of well-placed hi-hat hits and Collins’ fiery guitar. On it Hellmann's utter distaste for commercial culture’s nonchalant materialism is apparent as he laments sarcastically, “I want the easy life, I wanna f--k in the sun / But there’s a need to be discrete so that I know that I’ve won.” Unemployed college grads, it’s no surprise Controlling the Famous feel a little bit slighted by America’s incapacity to reward the deserving. Hellmann belts it out on “Long Day”:“Send it back with one transmission / Breaking down this is impossible / Too strong.”

Although chalked full of poetic attacks against the 20th century urban condition, “Automatic City” is more than just a diary of well-versed complaints — the boys of Controlling the Famous are sophisticated musicians. One part experimental and one part indie pop, the band tip-toes in and out of each genre, careful not to fall too deep into one or the other. Case in point: Controlling the Famous shifts effortlessly from songs like “Maybe We're Dead,” the disc's punchiest track, to “Devil's Suitcase,” the CD's darkly delicious closer, which incorporates Hughes' bass drops, Collins’ moony guitar and Hellmann's gentle whispers, all mixed to perfection.

Produced by Alex Newport (At The Drive-In), “Automatic City” sparks, emitting a tangible energy that translates well on CD and stage. To fans of the genre, Controlling the Famous might sound raw, unpolished and coarse. There are no frills or gimmicks — as Hellmann puts it, “We just want to play music.”

All in all, “Automatic City” is much like the sprawling city of the band's birth — nobody’s sure where it begins or ends, only that it's there and impossible to miss.

For more information on Controlling the Famous, visit: http://www.controllingthefamous.com/.